Roles and Responsibilities


Understand each member's contribution to the team, and learn what everyone needs in order to be successful.

AND I NEED THIS... WHY?

Step outside your work brain a moment and think about athletic teams. In some sports it's obvious what each team member's job is: on a track and field team, the shot-putters job is to be awesome at shot-put; on a baseball team, each player's role is discernible by virtue of whether they stand at the pitcher's mound, first base, center field, etc.

Now picture a basketball game. To the untrained eye, it's a bunch of people dribbling, passing, and shooting with no clear rules for who does what. But you better believe those players know exactly what their jobs are. Without roles that are clearly defined and understood, each game would dissolve into chaos and their performance would drop through the highly-polished floor.

So it goes with teams at work.

Understanding what all the smart people in your team are responsible is even harder. Knowing what each other are responsible for will allow you all to stop worrying about what others are (or are not doing) and get on with your job. Use this play to get real clarity on everyone's roles and highlight what roles are missing in your team.

WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED?

The whole team (or at least one representative from each role on the team).

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Team roles and responsibilities can be defined and mapped out to expose gaps or bottlenecks.
People

All team members

Prep time

10 min

Time

60 min

Difficulty

Moderate

Running the play

Defining roles and responsibilities helps move your team from "storming" to "norming", or help "performing" teams who've lost their way get back on track.

MATERIALS
  • Whiteboard or butcher's paper
  • Sticky notes
  • Markers
  • Timer
  • Rubber chicken
PREP

Book the room for 10 minutes beforehand. Ensure all your materials are laid out and ready to use. Draw a large table on a whiteboard with the following columns:

  • Role
  • Responsibilities (what I think)
  • Responsibilities (what others think)

Add a section at the bottom to capture responsibilities that are unassigned.

 

Tip

If you're running the play via video conference, create a table on a Confluence page or set up a Trello board.

STEP 1

Identify roles (5 min)

Define what roles there are in the team (e.g., team lead, developer, designer, accountant) and write them in the "Roles" section of the table you prepared. Keep these fairly coarse-grained – if you have a front-end developer and a back-end developer on the team, just write "developer" in the table. (You can always get more granular later in the session if needed.) 

If possible, have people who share the same role sit next to each other. 

STEP 2

Clarify your own responsibilities (10 min)

Think about the top 3 - 5 things your role is responsible for. Write each responsibility on a sticky note, then rank them in priority order.

STEP 3

Dive into teammates' responsibilities (5 min)

For each of the other roles identified, write down 1 - 2 responsibilities you believe are their priorities.

As you are brainstorming, you may think of responsibilities that don't have a clear owner. Write those down too and surface them when the group discusses in step 5. 

STEP 4

[optional] Refine and consolidate (5 min)

(Do this step only if you have 3 or more people who share the same role.)

To same time in the next step, talk to teammates with roles similar to yours and refine the list of responsibilities. E.g., if there are five developers in the room, they should create a unified list of developer responsibilities.  

STEP 5

Discuss each role (25 min)

For each role, have the role owner(s) describe what they believe their role is and place their sticky notes in the "what I think" column in priority order. Then go around the room to find out what others think the role is all about, and have them place their sticky notes in the "what others think" column. 

Next, the role owner either "accepts" or "politely declines" the responsibilities identified by others. If they decline, they should suggest which role ought to own it. 

You'll likely uncover responsibilities with no established owner. Note those in the "unassigned responsibilities" section below the table. Where responsibilities overlap, be sure to define who is the primary owner (vs. who is a contributor or a back-up).

FOR EXAMPLE...

Here's an example table from one of our development teams. 

STEP 6

Summarize and identify next steps (5 min)

Congratulations! You've just done yourselves a great service. Summarize the roles and their responsibilities to make sure everyone is in agreement. 

Then, find an owner for documenting it, as well as someone to figure out how you'll fill any skill gaps you identified.

Not ready yet?

If your company's idea of teamwork is bullsh*t, we've got some ideas that might help.

Learn more

Variations

CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAMS

If there are as many distinct roles on your team as there are team members, don't have every person brainstorm responsibilities for every other role. Instead, have each person identify the responsibilities of the person sitting to their right. 

Follow-ups

Write up the findings, share with the team (and any other stakeholders).

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